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Searching for Needles in Haystacks

Tracing Chinese Immigrants to America

By John Jung
Based on a Keynote Genealogical Lecture and Symposium
We Are America: Asian Pacific Americans in the U. S. Soutti bers of the same farruly had different "paper names."
National Archives Southeast, Morrow, Ga. May 1, 2010. Some names, Hke Sing Lee, as seen below were
very cotnmon making them difficult to distinguish. Tlie
reverse name. Lee Sing, was also common. In some
The National Archives are a national
cases. Sing Lee may not have even been the person's
treasure, especially for Chinese
real name, but tlie name he gave to his laundry, which
Americans seeking information about
translates to "Victorious Profit."
their immigrant parents and other
Other problems in locating Chinese by name occur
as Cliinese have several names: a family or clan name,
Today, I will describe the process of
a generarion name, and an infant name or niclcname.
my ov^n search for my parents' im-
migration files at the National Ar-
chives in San Bruno, highlighting
some of the difficulties as well as
some of the discoveries.

Search by Name
One might tliink that it would be a simple process
to locate immigrant records using a search by "name."
But, as shown below from 1880 census records for
Salinas, Ca, immigrarion officers did not understand
Cliinese names as they tnistakenly assumed that the
surname of many Chinese was "Ah," which was added
in front of a name of someone close to you to make it
less formal just as in EngHsh, Jim might be converted Search By Port of Entry
to Jimmy Knowing the port, ship, and date when the immi-
grant departed or landed is also valuable informarion
for locating arcliival records. Looking in tlie wrong place
guarantees failure as illustrated by several examples I
know about.
One immigrant was assumed by his descendants
to have landed in San Francisco, as the majorit)' did,
but he had entered at San Pedro.
In another case, descendents assumed their im-
migrant father initially landed in Seattle, as he had on
several subsequent occasions, but his original entr}'
was at San Francisco.
Compounding the problem, many Chinese immi-
grants acquired "paper names" to gain entr\' after the The opposite error was made by descendents of
passage of the Cliinese Exclusion Act of 1882. They another immigrant who assumed he landed in San
Francisco but in fact he entered at Seattle. (Tliey were
were Hsted in tlie arcliives under these false, rather
able to locate his file eventually because it was one of
than their real, names. Moreover, sometimes mem-
1 6 CHINESE AMERICAN FORUM - Volume XXVI, No. 1 - July 2010
the rare ones that also listed his true destination) she claimed to be. She had been carefully coached and
managed to pass tlie interrogation.
An Archive Search for my Parents' Files
Unlike men, women were also asked specific ques-
In my search in 2004, I was fortunate that my
tions directed toward determining their moral charac-
mother had saved her passage receipt from 1928 (she
ter, as illustrated by the questions below, because offi-
never discarded anything), which made the search easy.
cials suspected that many women were prostitutes.

(1 Btn 7 » t n r ton U tb* UJ. btfon or daporte! :&t7«rrcs** Ho.

d i t a n uA ntit * « will m i m lo tt» r.s. if c M t t a m » a B; tuute
) t buiteafi tald ai tbe Aatrlcn vm of tts ^Ite« but I ban foreottu U ,
KO.NSKONQ SAN FRANCIS'CO ( Eart fou avtr b«4B •UTFCO'Ud by etitrity?A Ko.
Em nuit from ». % Ean rev or altbar of 700? ptnot* anr btae l
(} De r n balliT* ta polTBur or It* prtetlMTl Ro,
p,r S. J EF,[i!Et.líU¿!It!U-__ r . , . J . . 8 s«ii»i—. q Do ro) btUan lt l i riebt for t fMkla ptrio« ta bira tira buibaodi i m t | •«
TH« aUM or BIOMT IWJ OOLL. tbt MM tlnM Xo.
Q I n jrou u ifiiretilit or oppoijítí :o u crguaiM eonnaaotfi Ko.
tí FBBCUl ISSCRIPTICilI OF 1FPUC1K7: Belebt lu Inrlota AOM 5 \ bluk M r ,
auk bron frti, eooplaxlcn ligbt] M n piliwSi IBIU pit nrk m rltfit ebttk boo«.

I did not find my father's file as easily because I did My father, even though he owned his laundry, was
not know his Chinese name. However, since his nie not considered a merchant, a category that was not
was linked with my mother's, I was able to retrieve it excluded from entr}^. like many other Chinese, he be-
and learn for the first dme that his paper name was came a 'paper merchant' by purchasing a partnership
in a real merchant's business, which enabled him to
Ben Jung.
bring a wife and any children over.

; or nti) •«
xastm 9tê!tM or
I t • ! n n | Bin."™--* * '
JM« • * • . brtM UM« « l y «Mm V«» t*^ «MMttA«
All Chinese immigrants had to answer an intense
set of detailed questions about the physical character-
istics of the \Tllage from which diey allegedly came as
well as questions about relatives, and events related to Tutbt ««part*« f r « tAa ooltM SMta> » r
^ 9 i t lo i^tt^w | | \ tlia pDft of ^ño rrtf\ûlA04, douiovii&a, pax
any previous trips back to China. My father's transcfipt S J . ivoftiuat UaeeLiL. ¿•»••aor £3. lft£7. «u*i Uat ha U B*«
n t u n i a « t« ina UUtM Jt»t«a;

was almost 100 single-spaced pages, of which a small Skat «Krlnff &!• tainorary T I A I la oniai ba s«rci*A to
t ooa, lA tk» i« nu«c«. >M no« a i t n a t . KMaxtuqf yre>
a. <n tfat l»\h day of tb« Lat«r< &11 »»ott, c.a. Lt]
segment appears below. Several times he was told that XlMt Ua ail« mtU <aXI. Ma »om in tlw m ai TlLUifi,
fing ia<triat, ttwactiuit liroTlnaa. Ctilo». »i» tn» Kta4 Uf
U i llti Moa. 3 . t . IE
his answers did not agree with those of his "alleged n»x. It la bl a «aaizB to brua« «ltli hUä hla *al« «ifaAlUlf

father." I noticed that not once did he change his an- U, -w lAa uuta« >UM« to «cal«» «lth klm tfmra^aitd ba naK«
tti» a m u T l t »T Ui« p«rpM« of «aahUnt U a to a o t m »aa.*««
- >M** >jUAlf 'Ifflj to pro«aa4 to tua imitak Jtata»]
swer, always saying that he was "telling the truth." 4]|p t«t (or tbi pKnMa •£ la«B(tfl»atiaa. «a «ttaobaa u n
' I of A^Bsalx aoA ol bia «aU alfa, 4fUK 2nB<

^ anT wa J*a 'f *"*• raiMtaM M* aMtviuoHrr ^n AMI «I-UB>UI» .1 uv tu* 44^» su/.
Q n U a you « « « ta ttaa JIV TULftOZ Laat ma UTVOAT aarrlad tkava* k l o .
Q m i a 7«u « • » In tiM JS« TILLua laat did aaT^oAj ala tb«r«TA Bt>.
Q l U U rou «*r« U tte Jt* nUAOS laat M « ujtedr bnrs tharaîA I na*«!' hawrú c
/ Q ñlob » T doaa 7T« TILU« rae« aiUI «bleh llra«tloa l i tha bwdn It faoM o«i1
tb« Mad la aaat.
Q CAmttni fR» tta* Mat whan la your fatbar'a houaa looatadf A «tti bnia«. Cal •
Q JM tM biMMa la tbat nm «U dvaUlae bouaaaTi T«a.
Q Htn thar «lM/a «MB «MUIII« hooMaTA So tfta nrat liouaa la a Lutara bam.
a Tto» aia you bappaü W » t o tba atataka of aayln« tbaj »«ra «U a««lUiii*?A I
'Q YOU ««T« aak»d tbat atsa ^uaattm wün.jw ««» u ajvllewt for atelaalm and
70U ban âBa««r«d It pr«alaUj in tha aiM «ly you do »a«. Tou flrat autad tbat
tba? «ar« aU dMUlnsa «ad thaa you ehaaa*d M fM $ia am. AM you MSdrtzlM

| q DD tb» houiaa in yoor « , or ywir Uxt»T'% ro«. ïmiali »«eb otbartl Ta»,
: R U tcueh.
Q un ttiar« uir btoAoo ba««H aurroundlBC m T
l l t u » OB tt« tvo aldaa.
i T»a, on tb« VMK I also searched for the files of other relatives. An
Q ira thara «ttaa to n i TXLUGST A Toa.
Il Ko« eu- la n « TULàOB froa xba aMPoat blUV A l l t t l a owr • U to th» « w t .
4 Ho« far laJZ> m U S rr«a tba MUMt rlt«r cr atr«aa of «aMrtA k U t U * e w
archi\ást located the records of my uncle who settled
« II ta ita r * v or aortb or wj 'rUl*»a.
« Do boata ply OB tt»t •«»ae or rlwrtA T « . a » U boata. ^
Q la l t poaslklo »0 tt«T#l M a MMII bw% m tb«t rtrMB «o OffiKC KH lUMir fr
in Atlanta where he operated a laundi-)- that his grand-
mr n U i O T A Ta«.
son runs still. Uncle Joe was a paper son who suppos-
My mother also faced a barrage of detailed ques- edly came from Hong Kong. After reading tlie detailed
tions aimed at detecting whether she was the person transcript of his interrogation, I readily saw that he
• See N A M E INDEX f o r Names in Chinese on Inside Back Cover 1 7
was unable to answer most of the quesdons about Documents from other archives are also valuable
Hong Kong. I was not surprised, but still stunned, in unearthing family liistory facts.
when I saw on the final sheet that he was denied entry For example, the Macon library had informadon
but told he could appeal. The fact is that he did gain about the 1943 stop by Madame Chiang Kai-Shek in
entry but exacdy why is still a mystery. The only other Macon to receive an honorary doctorate from Wesleyan
item in his file was a telegram dated two months later College. This was during her historic \isit to the U. S.
from Washington, D. C. ordering diat he be landed, or to gamer support for China in the war against |apan, a
admitted. %dsit thought to have been a key factor influencing the
decision in 1943 to repeal die Chinese Exclusion Act
in effect since 1882.
^tgnamtrps. Irâtri étatra Jürog
Ironically, Madame Chiang had been denied ad-
lHD 5 L»B 1 ex PBTT • i5«l«G1tH CC 605P" OCI 1? 1556 1» mission to a public school 33 years earlier, when she
lived in Macon because she was an "Alien." In the
1910 newspaper article below, her surname, Soong©
was even misspelled, Sclioon.

»WML f

What Did I Learn About

My Family History From the Archives?
í Ailens Not Atfmitted Under the
—taw—f>DpttrMüí5r BTNal-

i" »ralized and nf the r.^iirn-

While it was excidng to locate my parents' files, I s; sian ftacf According to ^\ \

had to remember diat since fadier was a paper son, the Dt Crea:ing Bibb Schools,

'facts' he gave did not reflect liis own background. Being Cliinese, we four jung children were in\'ited
Nonetheless, thesefilesgave me a glimpse into how to the event even diough we never actually got to meet
my parents maintained their poise under extreme du- Madame Chiang. Nonedieless an árdele in the local
ress. Reading these transcripts also gave me a first- newspaper made it seem as if the event was meaning-
hand look at die tortuous ordeal diat they, and thou- fid to us children.
sands of other Chinese immigrants, faced during in-
Big Day For Tiny Jungs

Fthdings f r o m O t h e r A r c h i v a l Sources CHÍNESE AMERICAN FORUM -volume XXVI, NO. I -July 2010
Our Family Moves to San Francisco "paper merchants" dirough forming partnerships with
Around 1950 when my two older sisters were reach- merchants although they were laborers.
ing the age of dating, my parents decided that we Cliinese soon realized that Immigradon officials
needed to move where there was a Chinese commu- always used the same standard quesdons aimed at de-
nit}' so that we could meet other Chinese people. We tecting paper sons. Knowing what quesdons would be
moved to San Francisco in stages, with my father re- asked, their chances of gaining entr)- were enhanced
maining alone to run die laundry while modier took considerably by memorizing coached answers (Wong,
the children to California. 2004).
The local newspaper printed a column Ijidding us |udges, some in favor of exclusion, still upheld the
farewell,' an unexpected, but welcome touching trib- Consdtudon and granted habeas corpus appeals to over-
ute to father. I was also struck by die headline shown rule many cases of denied entry (Salyer, 1995).
below because I had never known, or even wondered,
Closing Observations
whedier any Chinese had lived in Macon before us.
Use of "Paper Sons" may be largely a thing of the
According to the ardde, a Chinese laundry had ex-
past. Sadly, however, anxiety and stigma it created lin-
isted as far back as the 1880s at the same locadon
gers to this day.
where our Sam I^e Laundr}- stood.
Fear among survivors and descendents is under-
Not a Chinese in Our Town standable, but it prevents disclosure that impedes
For First Time in a Century
documentadon of its pernicious consequences and the
prevendon of future injusdces that led to such past
However, not until I was researching my family procedures.
history 50 years later did I bother to verify diat asser- The search for your immigrant roots may not be
tion by consulting Cit)' Directory Ksdngs. I then also easy, but die rewards can be enricliing and well worth
discovered the postcard below firom 1906 in another die effort. Archives are more accessible than ever,
archive. This visual evidence was compelling as it and expert archi\ásts want to help you widi your jour-
showed the ver)^ building (near right side) where our ney in exploring your past.
laundr}' was located above which were our li^^ng quar-
ters, complete with a sign hanging firom the second References:
floor that read, "Sam Lee Laundry" when we lived Liu, H. (2005). The Transnational History of a Chinese Family:
there from the 1920s to 1950s. Immigrant Letters, Family Business, and Reverse Migration.
New Brunswik, N. J. Rutgers University Press.
Pegler-Gordon, A. (2009). In Sight of America: Photography
and the Development of U.S. Immigration. Berkeley: Univer-
sity of California Press.
Salyer, L E. (1995). Laws Harsh As 77gers: Chinese Immigrants
and the Shaping of Modern immigration Law. Chapel Hill: Uni-
versity of North Carolina Press.
Wong, M. R. (2004). Sweet Cakes, Long Journey: The Chinatowns
of Portland, Oregon. Seattle: University of Washington Press.
]ohti j7-inggrm> up in Macon, Georsta, where his family, the
only Chinese in the dty, lived ahoiv a laundry.
Aßer moling to California, he majored in psychology at U. C.
Berkeley and went on to earn a Ph.D. at Northwestern
Uniwrsity. he ia an author of several academic textbooks,
including Psycholog}? of Alcohol and Other Drugs.
How Chinese Gained Entry
He is a Professor of Psycholc^' Emeritus at Calijornia State
Despite the Exclusion Law
Unitvrsity, Long Beach where he taught for 40years.
Chinese de^ised die "paper son method" and en-
After retiring in 2005, he wrote a memoir about his family's
tered the LI S. despite die exclusion law by using pur-
life in Geor^a titled Soudiem Fried Rice: life in A
chased idenddes and by establishing themselves as
Cliinese I^undr}' in the Deep South.
• See NAME INDEX for Names in Chinese on Inside Back Cover 1 9
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